Power shifts in a language learning career

Elizabeth Anne WALKER

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review


Following epistemological approaches taken by feminists and scholars of colour, this paper examines personal experience of learning four languages. On reflection, a striking feature was the shifts in power experienced in the different learning contexts. Power issues in language education have been researched by applied linguists since the 1980s, from the microsocial classroom level to the macrosocial international level. This contribution to the growing database of first-person accounts of language learning describes classroom level power shifts occurring over 35 years. The classroom took many forms along a continuum from a traditional, teacher-fronted place, thousands of kilometres from the target language context, to a room in a private home within the target language community. The analysis of power change takes into account curriculum, context and the person in context. This framework’s three dimensions are mainly informed by Johnson’s (1989) framework for evaluating curriculum learner-centredness, Auerbach’s (1995) analysis of power in classrooms and Norton Peirce’s (1995) conceptualization of social identity and self-investment in language learning. Some observations are made regarding the relationship between learner power and learning outcomes. The relationship is not a simple positive correlation across contexts, as the power factor interacts mainly with the learning purpose and contextual factors. As far as the data nature allows, some implications are drawn for language learning in both traditional and alternative classrooms. Copyright © 2004 English Centre, University of Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-32
JournalHong Kong Journal of Applied Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004


Walker, E. (2004). Power shifts in a language learning career. Hong Kong Journal of Applied Linguistics, 9(1), 15-32.


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